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Famous Philosophers: What Did Plato Believe?

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The great Plato

The great Plato

The Philosophy of Plato

The Greek philosopher Plato is known across the world for his contributions to philosophy, politics, and metaphysics. In this article, I will go over some of his general views as well as some of the more specific ones that he is known for.

General Views

  • Plato was one of the first consequentialists—he believed that it is the end result that matters, not how you get there.
  • In his work "The Republic" he described his version of a perfect society where he supports the government in lying to its people in order to achieve greater happiness.
  • This is in the context of approving of eugenics where he invented a method of regulating sexual intercourse, allowing it only at special festivals where people are given sexual partners via a fixed lottery. This lottery would be fixed in order to trick people of 'good breeding stock' to mate with each other and produce strong children.
  • Furthermore, children with 'defects' would be disposed of at birth.
  • Plato believed that it is only philosophers who should rule over the lands.
  • Plato believed that only people who have been proven time and time again to make judgments that are in the best interests of society without clouding their judgment with personal interests should be fit to rule.
  • Plato believed that society would work better if none of the 'guardians' (composed of the ruling class and the auxiliaries—those who help the rulers) should own any personal property.
  • He believed that abolishing family units and replacing them with a state nursery that would seize and take care of everyone's (including rulers') children would be best for society since the children would not have any family-related biases and so would be completely loyal to the state.

Plato's "Theory of Forms"

Plato believed that there was only one 'real' version of anything—the perfect version. Everything else that we see with our senses is just an imitation of this perfect version, or perfect 'form'. The imitations we see are all part of the world of appearance, whilst the perfect forms are part of reality.

The best way to explain Plato's theory of forms is through an example: although there are many types of beds (single, double, four-poster), they all share one thing in common that makes them beds: they all try to achieve being a bed. This ideal bed is what all physical beds that we see are trying to imitate, making them imitations and not real forms. Plato believed in this and believed that it is only through thought and rational thinking that a person can deduce the forms and acquire genuine knowledge.

What Plato means by 'genuine knowledge' is his idea that the world of forms is timeless—i.e. nothing ever changes—and therefore knowledge about the world of forms is 'genuine' knowledge. Knowledge about a certain imitation of a true form, say the chair in your living room, is not 'genuine' as this knowledge is not timeless: the chair will deteriorate from the form you know it as, and with it the value of your knowledge.

Since the world we live in is constantly changing, Plato concludes that any knowledge we think we have is merely opinion and is subject to change. It is because of his theory of forms that Plato believed that philosophers should rule the world—they are the only ones who seek out true knowledge and not just imitations of it, and so they are the only ones fit to rule based on knowledge.

The "Magnificent Myth" or "Noble Lie"

In order to encourage loyalty from the people of the state, Plato devised a lie about our origins: that everybody was born fully formed out of the ground, and memories of their upbringing were just a dream. In this way, all citizens are encouraged to regard each other as siblings since they all came from Mother Earth, encouraging loyalty to each other and the land that they inhabit. This is known as the 'Noble Lie' or the 'Magnificent Myth'.

The myth also includes the idea that when God created every person, he added either gold, silver, or bronze to their composition. Those people with gold were to be 'Rulers', those with silver 'Auxiliaries', and those with bronze 'Workers'.

This meant that if two 'gold' composed 'Rulers' had a child who was deemed to be made of 'bronze' then the child was to be a 'Worker'. Plato devised this extension of the myth in order to encourage people to be happy with their position in life, which was given to them by God and cannot be changed.

A Just State

Plato believed that the perfect state would contain four qualities: wisdom, courage, self-discipline, and justice.

  • Wisdom comes from the Ruler's knowledge and wise decisions.
  • Courage is demonstrated by the Auxiliaries who defend the lands and selflessly help the Rulers.
  • Self-discipline arises from the harmony between all three classes.
  • Justice comes from everyone doing what they are 'naturally' fitted for.
An example of the sort of thoughts the three elements of the 'soul' allow. Desire, Spirit, Reason in that order

An example of the sort of thoughts the three elements of the 'soul' allow. Desire, Spirit, Reason in that order

The Three Parts of the Soul

Plato identified three elements of the 'soul'. He used the term 'soul' but this should not be confused with spirituality or a part of someone that is separate from their physical body. Rather, Plato used it as a general term for the thing that makes people act.

The three elements are:

  1. Reason: This is much like 'wisdom' in societies and is the element that considers all of the facts known to a person and then decides what means are best to reach the ends. Reason is also concerned with the love of truth.
  2. Spirit: This provides emotional motivation and drives people to act in certain ways when they are angry, upset, etc.
  3. Desire: This drives people to act from baser urges such as lust, hunger, and thirst.

Plato stated that sometimes desire contradicts reason and gives evidence of people doing what they want rather than what is best for them. He uses this as evidence for the existence of the different parts of the soul.

Notice how the three elements correspond to Rulers (reason), Auxiliaries (spirit), and Workers (desire) in a society—this exemplifies one of Plato's strongest beliefs: that the notable aspects of society are equatable to the notable aspects of individuals writ large.

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© 2012 DK


Xiwen Yang on August 26, 2020:

Plato's idea should be tolerated and referenced for the development of a more rational mind, but just like the intellectuals in society that he has depicted--they're not practical. He has really advanced thoughts, but they seem to be creating a communist-like dystopia, which fails to implement to our reality. However, I do appreciate utilitarianism, which eliminates conflict by valuing the consequence of "the greater good" over individual interest or society's moral frame work.

THOBIAS TN on January 29, 2020:

I wish I were this earthly universe so that I could transform all human beings' mentality philosophically and simultaneously revamp a human society to fit for philosophical reasoning and embrace on Platonic view on wisdom,reason,desire,spirit,courage and justice. As a contemporary philosopher,I wish to acquire philosophical virtues,and all that is embedded in it...Plato's a fantastic philosopher and wish I were him so that I could smile for the rest of my entire life. Many of platonic literary works are practiced worldwide and court of laws do that...That is more than enough.

Harmon Spann Jr from Bronx, N.Y. on October 08, 2019:

No person should submit to rule but wisdom, absolute understanding and will to Be or to Become. This who we must evolve too. Plato has some understanding of what been said, no matter the circumstances in our journey we all must treat all with LOVE. Everyone ought to have a choice, free will, in your lifetime you see what people with disabilities can do for our planet, our world and for each other. Right now you should listen to our past and present, and step into wisdom clothe with understanding to become LOVE.

Kervenslouissaint on May 31, 2019:

Who is God?

God did not create man, but man invented God. Nothing is created but everything is transformed. According to Auguste Compte, any progress must be proven.

Man invented the existence of God in relation to his lack of knowledge on given subjects (riddles). In conclusion, God is the limit of man in terms of knowledge. An unfinished subject of study, unable by some to prove by the scientific method becomes an enigma. With the fertile imagination of man, he has invented an imaginary person (God) endowed with specific characteristics who holds the supreme power, through an absolute (omniscient) plenary path based on subjectivity by abstract convictions (spiritual doctrines).

Payson Layne on March 27, 2019:

I agree with most of his points, but i wish the "general views" section of this article talked more about how different people with different backgrounds contribute new ideas, and these ideas can push a civilization further. He talks about removing children with defects, but this could be a wide spectrum of children. This could be a child with autism, but it also could just be a child of color. besides this point, I thing that he had some great ideas.

Ratna B.. khatri on August 30, 2018:

Wow very interesting person. i like plato. Thank you.

Dumbass on March 06, 2017:

This was very good information. Thank you.

DK (author) from London on May 07, 2016:

The fact that we are still using his thoughts as a foundation for many discussions is really remarkable. Of course, with his profound ideas also came a sea of worthless ones - part of the creative process!

hubber8893 on May 07, 2016:

Very interesting hub. I really enjoyed reading it and I am completely in consensus with Plato in most of the points. It is really applaudable that a man centuries ago had amazing philosophy, perhaps that is the thing that keeps him distinct from general people of his time.

Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on May 08, 2014:

Wow. An interesting article on the philosophies of Plato, but some ideas were totally lacking any compassionfor his fellow man.Was Plato not the man who claimed to have known about the continent of Atlantis?

ScienceOfLife on July 07, 2012:

Exactly the right Q! Because in this case the string is already connected to the hook. Now, we're actually doing physics my friend!

The string can't pull on a hook by magic. No more than the earth can pull on the moon by magic. They MUST be already connected, somehow. That's why particle physics (i.e. Quantum) has no pull! Hence they invoke ptolemaic explanations (aka circular descriptions). A particle is a perfectly valid hypothesis, no doubt. I can visualise one ball hitting and pushing another. But no pull! :D

So, I say that the fundamental entity we hypothesize (assume) absolutely 100% MUST BE a continuous medium of some sort. But it cannot be aether, this is now taboo and for once rightly so: aether is irrational and has no explanatory power. (Einstein tried to get around it with warped space and all this madness). But he knew it was aether in disguise.

What do we have left? Hint: ropes and strings... ;)

DK (author) from London on July 07, 2012:

"Look: a string pulls on a fishing hook. We're done. No regress. We don't reduce any more."

What allows the string to pull on a fishing hook?

ScienceOfLife on July 07, 2012:

No no, infinite regress has nothing to do with it. Infinite regress is a product of reductionism and mereology. We don't reduce a chair to smaller parts; that's not science. We simply use the chair (hypothesize it) so we can proceed with our theory.

The nutcases at CERN think that we can foerver reduce particles to yet smaller particles. THIS is infinite regress. There absolutely must be a fundamental object. We don't need to run tests or do equations for this. There must be, rationally, a fundamental object with some kind of architecture.

Look: a string pulls on a fishing hook. We're done. No regress. We don't reduce any more. We're simply trying to explain how one objects pulls upon another. A rope pulls one person to another, in a tug of war contest. This is rational: this is physics. We can visualize it.

"It seems that it has to end with a force"

What IS a force then?! Show me "a" force. Otherwise, what is this spiritual entity we're talking about? This is the problem modern "physics" has (really, it's math-phys and religionism).

There's either a thing, or no-thing. An object, or empty space. Can't be both. Has shape, or has no shape. That's all that is possible. So, let us ASSUME some kind of shape for the purpose of our theory. What shape do we need to pull two objects close? What shape is light or the object that mediates the phenomena of light? These are rational Qs.

Again, infinite regress has to do with not defining things objectively, or it is because these autistic mathematicians forever divide numbers and pretend numbers are objects, or because they use what are called "functional definitions" (in other words, they try to "prove" an object by running a test or procedure or to confirm a "prediction" -- like they're doing with Higgs).

Well, if you're objects are made of magic, then sure, your predictions will always come true. I predict a force: a HEAVY force! OK, now I found it! Woohoo!

No, this ain't science. You FIRST have to demonstrate (illustrate) the object you're talking about. If I "predict" a car exists, then go looking for it, I'd better know WHAT it IS I'm looking for! It better have some kind of shape!

DK (author) from London on July 07, 2012:

[They've forgotten that we need a physical object to do physics!]

No no no no! You have absolutely no grounds to say that! Furthermore you've committed an infinite regress!

If you say that the effects of an object is determined from more objects, then what gives those object its effects? Then what gives that object its respective effects to do that? Ad infinitum!

You've said this yourself with "OK fine, but how can you explain PULL with discrete little balls? And so on..." Although I fear you didn't realise that "so on.." goes on forever if we have to keep explaining effects with objects!

It seems that it has to end with a force, a natural phenomenon of the universe.

I'm struggling to understand your idea that objects can cause other objects to move without there being any forces involved, that there can be a 'mechanical process' without energy.

For example, when ATP breaks down into ADP and a phosphate, energy is released that can be used to catalyse the reactions in our body.

(In our most accepted theory) In muscle contraction it is this energy from ATP that allows the heads of the actin filament to change shape and cause the 'stroke' and movement in our bodies.

So when you speak of a "string that reels in a fish hook" or a "rope that swings a ball around" you still have to reduce these events back to the force that is allowing the movement.

ScienceOfLife on July 07, 2012:

"So I think the best way is to ask you, what is it in existence that makes an electron negative?"

"there must be forces in existence as part of the universe's natural laws"

Again, we have to define what we mean by "exist". First we need to make sure an electron is a valid object (shape) and one which MIGHT exist (have location). So someone, maybe some Phd expert, should be able to simply draw one for me. But they can't!

An electron is not negative or positive. These are abstract concepts we use like left and right, or love and hate. An electron, like any object, simply has shape and moves in a certain direction or expands or contracts according to whatever your theory is.

They use terms like force, field, mass, pos/neg, etc. But these don't mean anything in science: they're all mathematical terms, or at best they're abstract or circular descriptions of what we observe. E.g. a magnet attracts or repels another. Fine. We already "know" about this (i.e. can predict this behaviour). The question is, WHY would a magnet attract/repel another? What is PHYSICALLY pulling or pushing these two objects? If we just say well, one field attracts and one repels, or it's to do with positive and negative, or charge or fields, or whatever; we still haven't explained anything! We've left the question entirely.

Magnetism is the same kind of problem as gravity. Gravity is not a thing (object). It's a description of what we already observe. The question is, WHAT is gravity (hypothesis), and WHY does the pen fall to earth (theory)? Once we have the WHAT (hypothesis: structure, shape) we can say HOW (mechanical process) and thus answer the main WHY question.

The ONLY way one object can PULL on another is via a continuous mediating object, like a rope that swings a ball around, or a string that reels in a fish hook. Because these "experts" are doing religion, politics, math and predictions and all this other nonsense, they've forgotten about true physics and have come up with irrational pseudo-explanations, like fields and force and whatnot. They've forgotten that we need a physical object to do physics!

And all this nonsense about light being a wave AND a particle AND a wave-packet and so on. It's just a contradiction in terms (contradictio in terminis).

So I prompt again: what do YOU mean by exist, object, concept? Hopefully you can use these terms consistently. Then, what are your exhibits? Particles (little balls)? OK fine, but how can you explain PULL with discrete little balls? And so on...

The Hypothesis stage of Science is really: 1) definitions, 2) exhibits (i.e. objects) and 3) statement of the facts (setting the scene). That's the only way we can then proceed with some kind of theory.

DK (author) from London on July 06, 2012:

Once you break that down and realise that there must be forces in existence as part of the universe's natural laws, the interesting question is to ask why these and not others.. And it's all too easy to become irrational when thinking about these topics because we know so little!

DK (author) from London on July 06, 2012:

No no of course human perception has nothing to do with existence. I'm not talking about that at all.

Kinetic energy has nothing to do with our perceiving it. It did not come into existence when we saw it. Perhaps kinetic energy was a bad example.

Take the charge on an electron. What makes it negative?

If an object makes an electron negative, then what gives that object the force to make other objects negative?

If the answer is yet another object. Then the same question applies. Ad infinitum.

What we know from that is that there must be forces in existence accompanied with objects.

So I think the best way is to ask you, what is it in existence that makes an electron negative?

ScienceOfLife on July 06, 2012:

"Take kinetic energy for example, that clearly exists but cannot be drawn for you singularly."

No! Energy does not exist, it's a concept. Energy has no shape. Can I draw "an" energy? No, it's to do with measurement or sensation or whatever (actually it's an incredible loose and malleable term).

This is entirely the problem as I see it. Let's try another thought experiment. Does the moon exist? If so, why? If not, why not?

Further; did it only exist once we measured it? Did it pop into existence because we observed it? If we have no evidence for the Moon, does it not exist? If I am blind,d eat and dumb, does the Moon not exist "for me"? Etc.

If the Moon exists, hopefully it does so regardless of whether we can prove it, supply evidence for it, sense it, measure it, observe it, etc. Hopefully, the Moon exists because we define exist consistently. Then we can move on. So, does God exist? Yes or no? Same question: why or why not?

If we cannot measure Him, or touch Him, or prove Him, or if He is elusive or vague or shows us no evidence for His existence, does he not exist?

I say no! Nonsense! It has nothing to do with proof, evidence etc. This is why theists and atheists run around "proving" and "disproving" gods to each other. It's why we have particles and higher dimensions we cannot imagine. Because we've lost our rationality. To be rational, we must be as objective as possible. So, we must rule out observers.

Hopefully, if we observe the Moon, or God, HOPEFULLY they already exist! So, existence has nothing to do with human evidence, senses, proof etc.

Take out ALL observers: what's left? Colour? Nope, subjective. Insects see more blue, we see more red. Size? Size is relative, requiring a comparison to another object.

The ONLY property objects have objectively speaking, must be shape. Can you imagine a chair without shape?! No chance! So, if God exists, he must have shape, then location too. Then we can proceed with out theory (God made the Universe, whatever!). Or, we ASSUME (invoke, hypothesise the Yeti, or a particle, or Napoleon, or whatever! As long as IF -- IF -- it exists (or existed), it has some kind of structure (shape)!!!

We can only define and assume existence, is basically my point.

DK (author) from London on July 06, 2012:

Mmm no I certainly understand your argument, though I was just pointing out how defining existence with a definition that necessitates presence denies the existence of the effects of objects, which undoubtedly do exist.

Picture any two objects in a vacuum. Why do they have an effect on each other?

To say that the relationship between these two objects does not exist is to deny that which we can see.

Take kinetic energy for example, that clearly exists but cannot be drawn for you separate from objects. If it turned out that small objects caused the effects we see as kinetic energy, then what causes those objects to cause their effects? Ad infinitum!

Take the charge on an electron and its relation to a protons charge. It is a force that causes this charge, not more objects? The force definitely exists, irrespective of any definitions that necessitate it to have a shape in order to exist.

Yes, objects certainly exist - but so do many things with seemingly (important distinction!) no shape!

That's how I see it anyway,

Thank you (:

ScienceOfLife on July 06, 2012:

Hi Philanthropy2012, thanks for your comments. I'm not sure how much I'll write about yet but I appreciate the encouragement.

My issue is not that there ought to be some monopoly on definitions, but only that whoever is defining their terms must do so consistently so as not to leave loopholes or vagueness.

The reason I chose these definitions is that they're objective, i.e. rule out human observation. For example, if I accept that what exists is "that which has physical effect" then there are some immediate problems with this I see.

For example, an effect is not physical. An effect is what a physical object DOES, not what it is. E.g. a ba hypothesized ll (physical, noun) can move (dynamic, verb) or bounce or roll or whatever. So, the same goes for gravity. Gravity is a loose term for a description of what we observe (e.g. the pen falls to the floor). But the explanation of WHY this is so necessarily requires some kind of object. Otherwise we end up with circularity, and replace explanation with description. We already "know" (observe, measure, etc) the pen falls to the floor. But what is the physical mechanism at play here?

It can't be magic, and it can't be a concept pulling on the pen (like love or justice or ethics). So what is the mechanism? For this we must assume something (some--thing, aka some object).

All objects must have the property of shape (architecture). Otherwise we go back in circles. They claim the Higgs Bosson exists -- ok, fine! So let them draw me a picture of it, even just a crude mockup. How does this physical entity become part of their theory? What shape (architecture) does it have? If it doesn't have shape, how can it exist?! What are we talking about here; what is it we're visualizing?! And so on.

I hope this is of some use.

DK (author) from London on July 06, 2012:

I agree with you Scienceoflife to the point where we need to define what words are before we use them, otherwise we'll all just get confused!

However, I think you've oversimplified the definitions. Namely, you state that in order for something to exist, it needs shape and need to have physical presence.

Consider then the natural phenomenons of the universe such as gravity, EM radiation and the like.

These do not necessarily have 'shape' or 'physical presence' as one might conventionally describe.

I would define as something being in 'existence' as something that has ''physical effect'. That is to say, if it causes an effect on an object or is an object (taking up space is in itself an effect) then it exists.

I find this definition more appropriate because it takes into account things that we have not figured out yet.

We have literally only just found that the Higgs Boson exists (exciting stuff!) but we still don't know how/why this field exists and how/why it works!

Interesting to see what you think, If it's okay I'll follow you - you sound like you might write things of value!

ScienceOfLife on July 06, 2012:

The problem Plato had, which the philosophers have never really figured out to this day, was that of understanding what we mean by "exist".

That's why we still have particle "physicists" looking for (apparently "discovering") zero-dimensional particles and hyper-dimensions! They're looking for the Perfect Form, and they'll not find it, because it doesn't exist.

We have to define "exist" (synonym: real) objectively FIRST, then we fix the issue. It's just definitions. Plato just used synonyms without ever defining anything objectively (consistently, ideally observer-free).

Exist: physical presence.

Physical: possessing shape (or contour, structure) against space

Presence: location (or 'set of distances') from a given object to the remaining objects

Space: that which has no shape, boundaries, or surface

Object: that WITH shape

Now we've solved the age-old philosophical "problem" by defining key terms as objectively as possible. Now we know what is real (i.e. exists) or not.

Does god exist? Does this table exist? What about the Yeti?

Well, do they have *physical presence*, i.e. both shape AND location? If so, yes — by definition. if not, no — by definition.

Thus we can also conclude that the first stage of the scientific method (aka the hypothesis) should always start with definitions first.